Monday, June 22, 2015

Newbery Review: Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (1986 Medal Winner) and A Gathering of Days by Joan Blos (1980 Medal Winner)

Since I took a rather long, unannounced hiatus from reviews (sorry!), I'm going to review two Medal winners today! Both will appeal to fans of Little House.

Sarah, Plain and Tall

Short and sweet is the best way to describe Sarah, Plain and Tall. In fact, it's so short that I read it in about forty minutes, but it's so sweet I almost wish I had more.

In Kansas, farm children Anna and Caleb are anxious to learn who their new mama will be. Their papa put an ad in the paper for a new wife, and when Sarah answers, she writes, "I will come by train. I will wear a yellow bonnet. I am plain and tall."

Anna and Caleb's desperate hope to see Sarah stay turns into overanalyzing every little thing she does. And while the ending is undoubtedly predictable for older children, the story is endearing enough for most readers not to care.

Rating: Three and a half stars

Recommended reading age: All ages (could make a good read-aloud)

Favorite character: Sarah

Content review for parents: a lamb dies

A Gathering of Days

A Gathering of Days is thirteen-year-old Catherine's journal from 1830-32. For people looking for modern formulated plot lines where anything mentioned in significance has to be a future plot point, this book is not for you. For people looking for an authentic look into 1830s New England, including the sometimes more difficult old language, this book is for you.

The full gamut of the era is covered in this book: the rising issue of slavery (Catherine and her friend Asa experience this especially when Catherine finds a strange note in her journal), Catherine's father's remarriage, and the excessively harsh winters. Don't except this book to grab you and suck you in. It won't. It will, however, make an impression on you, and if you're anything like me, you'll love Asa.

A lot of fellow reviewers seem divided on this book. I'm not sure why. Those who speak negatively say it isn't as memorable as Little House. In my humble opinion, it's in some ways better written than Little House, but not always. We get to delve much deeper into Catherine's thoughts than we ever do into Laura's, but this internalization takes away from the supporting cast, and portraying the supporting cast is where Little House shines. However, they share the same pattern of walking you through the daily lives and routines of the people around them.

Rating: Three and a half stars

Recommended reading age: 10+

Favorite character: Asa

Content review for parents: To be entirely honest, it's been about a year and a half since I last read this, but I don't remember anything drastic. Characters and animals die, and suffer in the winter. If you feel comfortable with your child reading Witch of Blackbird Pond or Little House or Caddie Woodlawn, you're safe!

For more Marvelous Middle Grade Reviews, visit Shannon's blog here!


  1. I haven't read A Gathering of Days, but think I would like it. I like reading historical fiction. I love Sarah, Plain and Tall. Thanks for the reviews.

    1. Yes, I recommend it! :D And you're welcome!

  2. My younger daughter, who is not a big reader, loved Gathering of Days in about 3rd grade. I haven't read it in years, but always love historical fiction. It hardly ever circulates in my school library, though.

    1. I'd love to see historical make a comeback. Thanks for reading! :D

  3. I used to read Sarah, Plain and Tall in the classroom. I loved the story. Haven't read your second selection though it sounds interesting. Thanks for two from the past.

  4. I loved Sarah Plain and Tall! Gathering of Days sounds really intriguing too. I'd heard of it, but didn't know what it was about. I don't mind a slow read if it's got a lot of details. I'll definitely check that one out.

  5. These two sound great! I'm going to look for them the next time I'm in the library. Welcome back! :-)


  6. I finally got around to reading Sarah, Plain and Tall last year and feel that same as you about it. I have never heard of A Gathering of Days, but I do love historical fiction, so will look for this one. Thanks for telling me about it.